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Couples and Boundaries

The basic task for contented and healthy relationships is to figure out what’s mine, what’s yours, and what’s ours. This includes not only material goods but rights, privileges, and responsibilities. This is accomplished by setting boundaries, lines of demarcation. Each person needs to let the other know what is private and personal and what is to be shared.

The most frequent conflict in first marriages is finances and, in second marriages, children. As to finances, the central issue is actually control. Individuals who require separate checking accounts or other independent arrangements are stating clearly that they need to be in charge of their own affairs. They have issues “sharing” or melding. In first marriages this is a particularly sensitive area since intimacy depends upon trust and cooperation.

In previous generations, the “man of the house” was in charge of finances and was regarded by common law as head of the household. Those days are now long gone, and now marital assets in the eyes of the law are considered equally shared by to both partners. Couples who share everything in joint accounts are working toward a more fully integrated definition of marriage. Financial arrangements in which one member is dominant or secretive, doling out the assets to the other in small doses, signifies psychological problems in both members of the conflict.

In second marriages, step-children are the number one issue of potential conflict. This is actually more tricky than finances, because husband and wife may have different philosophies concerning parenting. Here, boundaries must be respected. Each parent must be in charge of disciplining their biological children. Yes, there must be house rules that both couples agree on, but enforcement needs to be assigned to the biological parent.

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